Skip to main content



Speak Softly, She Can Hear

Chapter One

March 28, 1965

It was pitch-black. Black above and below. The only way to know up
from down was by the pinprick stars. Ahead the sounds of Eddie
Lindbaeck's boots fell heavily in the snow, his full weight coming
down and then pushing off. Carole's footsteps were quieter because
she'd worn her new Capezio flats to make her feet look pretty and
to impress him. Capezio flats, black stretch pants with the loop
under the arches to keep them from riding up, Naomi's gold mohair
sweater, and her aunt Emily's brown parka with the cream vee. She
couldn't help the jacket. It was all she could scrounge up in the
warmth department. But now her feet were numb. She had to come down
hard on her heels to get any traction at all, and it made her feel

She had the sinking feeling he'd forgotten she was even here. If
anything, he was getting farther ahead. When he'd picked her up at
the Double Hearth, he'd been aloof, not at all like he was on the
train. A car passed them, whipping their shadows together.
Afterward, it was even blacker than before.

"Is it much farther?" she called to him.

The sound of his boots stopped somewhere up ahead. "Is she

"No," she said. "She isn't. She's just cold." She wouldn't want him
to send her back to the Double Hearth and ask for Naomi tonight
instead. She'd won going first, and she was going through with this
no matter what.

"It's not far," he said. "It's something out of Cannery Row.
You girls didn't exactly go all out, did you?"

"You're the one who made the reservations."

Another car beamed from behind them, and she saw the sign up ahead.
SNOWTOWN MOTEL. She knew exactly how far it was now because it was
where the taxi had dropped him off after the train today. After the
turn, the driveway snaked through a forest and then ended up at a
clearing and the bunch of cabins, a big ring of them, with an
office off to the left. Maybe it was crummy, but she wasn't going
to take the blame for it. He was the one who'd supposedly been here

"You didn't give me much to work with." When she caught up, he put
an arm around her shoulders and breathed into her ear. "No matter,"
he said.

The sound of his words triggered a spreading warmth, followed by a
tight cluster of sensation, as though a string were being tugged
deliciously somewhere deep within her. Naomi said the whole world
is divided between those who have done it and those who haven't.
Men can tell.

"I couldn't believe what you did this morning," she said.

Carole and her mother had arrived at Grand Central early and had
had to wait near the information booth, where the floor was
disgusting. Carole had Aunt Emily's skis and was wearing Aunt
Emily's urine-colored stretch pants. In her suitcase she had Aunt
Emily's long underwear and a hat she wasn't going to be caught dead
in. She'd never carried skis before, and she kept hitting people
with them by accident. When she set them down, they slithered every
which way. Her mother kept trying to kick all the equipment into a
tidy pile.

Carole had felt a little bad that her mother had gone to all the
trouble of getting the skis from Emily when Carole didn't care
about skiing. They'd had to get the car out of the garage and drive
up to Tarrytown. Emily had taken the bindings to be oiled or
something, and had the sides sharpened, and it was a very big
production. She'd shown Carole and her mother those old pictures
from a hundred years ago when she had been, in her words, a big
girl too. Before she'd dieted herself into oblivion. Back then you
had to walk up and ski down. Emily had said that a hundred times.
Now they had chair lifts. Emily thought walking up made her
superior. Emily was always saying things like that.

So Carole and her mother had been standing there waiting when they
heard a voice bellowing out across the whole station. "You guys!"
There Naomi was with Eddie right next to her on that giant marble
landing that looked out over all of Grand Central. Carole had
frozen on the spot. What did Naomi think she was doing? She had on
all black and one of those serape things her father and Elayne were
always bringing her back from South America. A sort of shawl in
bright red. The odd couple, Carole thought. Eddie had looked
preppie in his gray Shetland sweater and tweed jacket. He had
blandly handsome features, a Scandinavian face -- wide, high
cheekbones, narrow dark blue eyes, and a full mouth. His lank hair
was the color of sand. Naomi's eyes were thick with kohl, something
she'd just started doing. Carole counted. One one-thousand, two
one-thousand, three one-thousand.
She knew exactly what was
coming. On four one-thousand her mother leaned over. "Isn't
it a shame what Naomi does to herself. She could be such a pretty

Naomi and Eddie came barging through the crowd toward Carole and
her mother, Naomi in the lead, Eddie following, carrying both their
suitcases. Naomi pretended not to know his name. She called him
"this nice man" and said he'd been kind enough to share his taxi,
that if he hadn't, she'd have missed the train for sure. Eddie had
grinned shyly as though embarrassed at all the fuss, as if, aw
shucks, all he'd really done was what any decent person would do.
Carole had held her breath in desperate, paralyzing fear that any
minute now her mother would catch on and Carole would be in the
biggest trouble of her young life.

But her mother hadn't had a clue. She'd believed what Naomi had
said and shaken Eddie's hand, her manner the same as when she met
Carole's father's business associates -- overly chatty and nervous.
What a nice thing it was of you to do...People in this city
don't usually...Now where I'm from...
On and on, blushing and
squirming in her coat like a complete idiot. She was forty, for
God's sake, and Eddie was twenty-six. It killed Carole the way her
mother could get, especially when she was the one going to
bed with him later. It was so pathetic. She hadn't dared to look at
Naomi, who she knew would be smirking dangerously.

"The nerve of you," she had said to Naomi when they finally ditched
her mother and got on the train. "The absolute balls!"

They managed to get two pairs of seats facing each other and throw
their stuff all over the other two. Then they'd had to fight people
off who wanted to sit with them, saying the seats were taken. Naomi
was best at that, coolly and calmly putting her hand on the vacant
seat and saying, "I'm afraid these are already spoken for,"
ignoring people's dirty looks once the train got going and the
seats stayed empty. If it had been up to Carole, she would have
given them away. She was weak when it came to things like

Somewhere in Connecticut, Eddie made his way up the aisle and
flopped down in the seat next to Carole. He leaned against her, and
she let him, feeling his warmth. But that was nothing. The next
thing she knew, Naomi, who was sitting opposite, slipped her
stockinged foot between Eddie's big boots, inched it up the front
of the seat between his knees, and rested it right between his
thighs, wriggling her toes and laughing. Where had she learned to
do that? He made a kissing motion at Naomi and then at Carole, and
Carole dared to make the same noise back. After that, anything
went. Whatever they felt like doing, they did. Whatever they felt
like saying, they said. What a feeling it was. Think it, do it. For
mile after mile of swaying tracks and stops and people getting on
and off, staring at them, some of them making remarks. The girls
switched places, took off their shoes and socks, touched his feet,
each other's feet and ankles, until, some time in the afternoon,
they all fell into a semi-sleep, tangled and barefooted.

"So I'll see one of you later," he said as the train was pulling
into the Waterbury station.

"Me." Carole was drunk with him. Eddie had bedroom eyes, half shut
all the time, with fat lids. And thick lips. His whole face
reminded Carole of sleep, like you'd have to stick a pin in him to
get his attention. So sexy, she thought.

"We had a race, and she won," Naomi said.

"You did?" Eddie said, waking up, a little confused. "A

"Sort of," Carole said. Eddie's expression bothered her, and she
didn't feel like giving him the details. It had been her idea and
now it seemed sort of dumb and she was embarrassed. She and Naomi
had chosen a course. Carole would start at 100th and Madison, while
Naomi started at 20th and Madison. Whoever got to 60th and Madison
first, the exact midpoint, won the right to go first with Eddie.
Carole had won by six minutes.

"You must have cheated, eh?" Eddie pressed two fingers into
Carole's belly and jiggled them. She knew what he was thinking.
That she was too fat to outrun Naomi. But she'd only had to outwit
Naomi. She'd zigzagged through the city, plunged into traffic
midblock, and raced through red lights. She counted on Naomi's
getting distracted by stores and people, and she had.

"No," she said.

"Well, lucky me," Eddie said.


In the headlights of an oncoming car she saw him ahead now, getting
ready to cross the road to the motel. He waited for the car to pass
and then ran for it. She wished he'd wait for her, but maybe it was
because he was an actor that he was this way. Maybe he was going
over lines in his head or thinking about how to do a scene. She'd
read in Confidential Magazine that Danny Kaye did that all
the time. People would see him on airplanes and ask for his
autograph, and he wouldn't even hear them because he was so
preoccupied with a script.

He waited for her to cross the road. She couldn't see him very well
and had to grope for him in the dark. Her hands hit the soft layers
of his jacket. "Hold still," he said. His gloved hands came to rest
on her arm, and she smiled secretly. He tucked her hand under his
elbow and pressed it hard against his side. "Come on," he said.
"It's fucking cold out here." The word thrilled her. She'd never
heard it spoken like that, so casually, as if he said it all the
time. He set off fast, but she couldn't keep up and soon her hand
slipped from under his arm. He took a few steps without her and
then stopped. Utter silence. She could be anywhere with anybody --
it was that dark. She was too scared to take any more steps by

"Eddie?" She groped the dark again. "Come on. This isn't

He grabbed her from behind and she screamed. He clamped a leather
glove that smelled like gasoline over her mouth. "Sshh," he said
and kissed her, the warmth of his lips and tongue a sudden shock,
more terrifying still. "Come on. Not much more." By now she could
see a little bit of light through the trees ahead. She had her hand
tucked in again between his elbow and his side and she was a little
bit behind him. She liked it this way, the feeling of being taken
somewhere. Against her will, but not really.

He led the way to the second cabin from the left. The ones to
either side were dark, and the office was dark except for a neon
sign with pieces of the letters missing. The cabin was dark wood,
or painted brown, she couldn't tell. It had white shutters tilting
off. She knew what he meant about it being crummy. "Ours is only a
dorm," she said about the Double Hearth, where she and Naomi were
staying. "At least you have some privacy."

He fumbled in his pocket for the key, opened the door, and switched
on the light. "See what I mean?" It smelled of bats and mice
inside, like a summerhouse that had been closed up. There were two
twin beds with beige-and-brown-striped bedspreads, an armchair, and
a bureau. His suitcase lay open on the floor. It was one of those
fiberglass ones that you could drop from an airplane and it
wouldn't break. His shaving stuff was spread out on a fake mantel.
There was an electric heater. He switched on the heater, and they
both watched the coils start to glow red. He went to one of the
beds, jiggled the mattress, and grinned. He sat on the bed, took
off his parka and sweater, and threw them into a corner. He started
undoing the top button of his shirt and then stopped. "Don't just
stand there," he said.

Her parka crackled with static electricity when she took it off.
The yellow mohair sweater came way down over her hips, but even so
she tugged it down and sat on the bed across from him, holding the
parka in her lap. She had never thought about this part, the part
right before. She had no idea how they were ever going to get from
here into one of the beds. How she'd even get out of her clothes.
How Eddie would. She studied the lamp on the table between the
beds. It had a cowboy roping a steer on the shade. He probably
wished Naomi was here instead of her.

Eddie unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt, took it off, and threw it
on top of the sweater and parka. She wondered if he would just keep
on going and take off all his clothes. Then what? It was all
happening too fast. But he stopped and sat staring at her in his
undershirt and khaki slacks. Her father sometimes looked at her the
same way. He'd once said she was never going to be cute. "No
sirree," he had said. "You're going to be handsome. A handsome
woman." She hadn't dared to tell that one to Naomi. She didn't want
anybody to know. It was so awful. At the time, she didn't even dare
ask what he meant -- what women did he think were handsome? What if
he said Golda Meir or Lillian Hellman? Well, no, she knew
she didn't look like them. That much she could say. She didn't have
a great big nose and little eyes, for one thing. Her nose was nice.
And she had arresting eyes, everybody said, which was, in her
opinion, too much like "handsome" to be much comfort. Her eyes were
pale blue, like ice. In her wildest dreams she wondered about
Sophia Loren. She hoped to God that Sophia was handsome. Generous
features on Sophia, that was for sure. But dark. And Carole was so
fair. Maybe, just maybe.

"Stop that thing with your foot, will you?" Eddie said. "It makes
me nervous."

She took a breath and looked around.

"So?" he said.

"So?" she said.

He took a bottle of scotch from his suitcase, poured two little
cone-shaped paper cups, and handed her one. The hot liquor ran down
to her stomach like fire. He poured her another. "So you're

She remembered what Naomi had said. Whatever you bloody do,
don't bloody tell him you're only bloody sixteen.
was Naomi's word of the month. Naomi said he might not go through
with it if he knew. He might think she was too young. "I got held
back in the fourth grade. I couldn't get my multiplication tables."
She added the last bit to make it authentic. Actually, she was
young for her year and headed to Vassar in the fall. She had been
accepted on early decision, the only girl in her class who had, and
she would turn seventeen in her first month of college. She was a
brain. She'd spent her whole life getting straight A's.

Eddie crumpled the cup in his hand and looked her up and down.
There was something so bold in the way he stared at her breasts
that it took her breath away, and when he slowly raised his eyes to
meet hers, she felt so weak she could barely move.

"Give," he said. He reached for the parka she held, loosely now, in
her lap. "Stand up and turn around. Let me get a look at

The old dread came back full force. She was fat, and her thighs
rubbed when she walked.

"Just be natural. Trust me. Look at yourself in the mirror."

She stood and turned to the mirror over the dresser. Her face was
flushed from the walk and the liquor. "Nice," he said. He stood
behind her, examining her in the glass. He cupped her chin, pulled
her hair back. It was blond and curly, almost frizzy. He lifted it
from her back to the top of her head and kissed her neck, playing
with the hem of her sweater at the same time. When she felt his
hands along her bare midriff, she pulled in her stomach on reflex.
"Don't do that," he said. "Just relax. You're fine."

"I don't know what to do."

"It isn't what you do. It's what I do. Lesson number one."

His hands lifted the sweater and she raised her arms automatically,
like a child. When he pulled the sweater over her head, she was
ashamed of the twisted and frayed straps of her bra. She covered
the rolls of fat on her midriff with her arms as best she could,
but again Eddie stopped her, smiling at her from behind in the
glass. He undid the hooks of her bra and pulled it away. "Look," he
said. She watched in shock as his fingers took her nipple and
pinched it. It hurt just a little, but she didn't let him know
that. She wanted to be brave. "They change." His smile held a trace
of cruelty that only made her like him better. "Did you know

Of course she did, but she shook her head. He'd said it was what
he did, after all.

He unhooked her pants, ran the zipper down, and pulled them to the
floor. She shut her eyes. She hated seeing herself all bigger than
life. Without looking, she remembered the underpants she had on and
blushed. They were gray and soft from so many washings. He pulled
them to the floor and stood up behind her as his hands slid across
her belly, down to the place between her legs, his fingers making
small circles that suddenly felt good. Incredibly good. "You like
that, don't you?" he said, and she opened her eyes and glanced at
what he was doing, riveted now by the sight of his hand on her and
the feel of his breath on her shoulder. She nodded. She could not

Then he turned and went to the bed, where he lay down, leaving her
stranded, with her panties and slacks around her feet. She wished
he'd make this easier. But he didn't. He didn't tell her anything
now, which wasn't fair. It was supposed to be about what he

He lay back on the pillows. "Beautiful," he said, and she was able
to smile for the first time all night. "You're a diamond in the
rough, you know that?" He beckoned her over and she went, kicking
out of her pants. She lay down beside him easily. She felt as fluid
as water while his hands traveled over her body, exploring, and she
was carried along for what seemed like hours until he rolled away,
stood beside the bed, dropped his pants, picked them up, and took
something from the pocket. A rubber. He fumbled with himself, and
she saw for the first time his thing in the dim light, bobbing and
unruly. She couldn't take her eyes off it. The bulk of it, and that
stocking thing dangling off the end. The fact of her looking at it
that way did something to him, made him bigger. He lay down next to
her. He touched her. "God, you're wet," he said.

"I'm sorry," she said.

It made him laugh so hard that he had to roll onto his back. He
turned back to face her. "It's a good thing," he said. "I
see we've got a lot of ground to cover."

She felt pleased with herself for making him laugh out loud,
thrilled at his evident enjoyment of her although she didn't know
exactly what had been so funny. Well, not funny. The way he laughed
wasn't so much comic as appreciative. He liked her better for what
she had just said. It's a good thing. She smiled,
remembering the nice way he'd said that, as she felt his hands
trace lightly over her abdomen and breasts and then make gentle,
tantalizing circles, spreading slowly down, to her navel, below her
navel. Her hand slid down his arm to his hand, wanting, needing
whatever was next. She opened easily to him and felt again that
sweet tugging and the sense that the place between her legs was the
only part of her that existed, that everything else -- body,
thought, even consciousness -- was gone, fully in the service of
this sudden enlargement.

And then there was a moment of searing pain, and she realized that
he was inside her. He started pumping rhythmically against her,
aggravating the pain. She didn't want to cry out in case she was
mistaken again and lay waiting for that flicker of pleasure to
return, but it didn't. She shifted under him a little, and it did
something odd. He hesitated as though he was listening for
something, his body rigid and absolutely still. He seemed to get a
second wind and boom boom boom. Then he slumped down on top of her
with all his weight and stayed there until she could hardly breathe
and had to squeeze out from under him.

Were they finished or was this still the middle? She waited for
some other new thing to happen, but nothing did. She was getting
her own second wind and wanted to go another round or whatever
you'd call it. This couldn't possibly be all there was to it, not
after what everybody said. "The central moment of the young wife's
life," according to the book her mother had made her read. But he
was snoring. She felt so wide awake. How could he be asleep so
soon? She stared at the ceiling. It reminded her of summer camp
with its plain pine boards. She used to lie on her bunk and stare
at the knots until they looked like faces or animals, but she was
too jumpy for that now. She considered racing out of here so she
could tell Naomi. For once she'd have a leg up on Naomi. I did it
first. But if she left, she might miss something. It wasn't
even nine o'clock.

She looked around the room for something to do. There was no TV or
radio. Not even a book as far as she could see. Just his stuff. She
tiptoed to the suitcase on the floor and opened it up, but it was
cold in the room and she went back and got his T-shirt from off the
floor. The suitcase was olive green. Inside were a few pairs of
those same khakis, all folded, and some shirts and underwear. She
opened a drawer. Inside, there were a magazine, a box of rubbers,
and some ten-dollar bills in a paper clip.

She opened the magazine. It was a dirty magazine on bad paper, with
drawings of naked men and women in it and some fuzzy photographs.
She pulled it out carefully and looked through it, glancing often
at Eddie in case he woke up. She had a feeling he'd be mad if he
knew she was in his stuff. She'd never seen pictures like this.
Everything was the color of raw beef.

She opened the other top drawer and started to fill it with his
underwear until it occurred to her that if he found all his things
put away, he'd know she'd seen the magazine. That might not be
okay. She didn't really know him that well. What if he thought she
had taken some of the money? She undid everything, quietly slipping
the clothes out of the drawer and back into his suitcase.

She went to the mantel, where his shaving things were all lined up.
There was a little rectangular hairbrush and a tortoiseshell comb.
She ran her hands over all his things as though they were her own.
She picked up the hairbrush and ran it through her tangled curls.
He had a leather toilet kit filled with half-used tubes and
bottles. She went into the bathroom, emptied the kit out on top of
the toilet tank, held it under hot water, and scrubbed. She
flattened his toothpaste and rolled it tightly from the bottom. She
wanted to take care of him now. Make everything easy and clean for

Her mother had explained about sex when Carole turned ten. It had
been just awful. Her mother had been embarrassed, looking away most
of the time and not meeting Carole's eyes. She had said that one
day Carole would fall in love, get married, and then have
intercourse. She'd blushed when she got to the part where the man's
penis became rigid and was inserted into the woman's vagina. Even
at ten, Carole had been pretty sure something was missing from the
explanation, and now she knew. Her mother had left out the urgency
of it all, how at a certain point there was no stopping. It had to
be the whole reason anyone wanted to do it in the first place. Sex
wasn't a chore at all but an unstoppable pleasure that could have
gone on forever if only Eddie hadn't fallen asleep. When Carole had
asked her mother about falling in love -- what it meant, how it
happened, how you knew -- her mother had said, "You'll just know."
Maybe it was happening right now.

"Where'd you go?" He was calling from the bedroom. She opened the
door and looked out at him. "Don't go touching my stuff."

She sat on the side of the bed. "Do I look different? Now know. They say girls look different after. That men can
tell. I just hope Daddy can't tell. He'd kill me."

"You look fine. Don't worry."

"I feel different."

"You should."

"Can I see you back in New York?"

He lay back down and grinned at her. "So?" he said.

"So what?"

"Do you like me?"

"Yes," she said, flattered and a little taken aback to be asked.
She wouldn't have dared ask him that question herself. What if he
said no?

He pulled her down beside him. "Sure, you can see me back in New

"Can I go to one of your actor parties?" There was no question in
her mind that he'd want her to. That really she was just making
this easier for him. Saving him from having to ask. He'd said she
was beautiful, after all.

"Maybe I can come to your place," he said.

The thought of Eddie in her bedroom electrified her.

"So tell me," he said. "You walk into your apartment, and what's
there? Is it like a hall or what?"

She walked him through the apartment, starting with the dining room
and the den off that, the corridor to her parents' room. He wanted
every little detail -- what was on the walls, what the furniture
was like, what they could see out the window. She told him about
the home for unwed mothers across the street and all the pregnant
girls her age who played cards, watched TV, and waited for their
babies. Her mother said it served them right.

"She's pathetic, isn't she?"


"Your mother."

She'd said her mother was pitiful a thousand times to Naomi. But
she hated hearing him say it. "I don't know."

"I know, and I only met her for two minutes." He laughed. "Hot to

"She has a hard life." What she meant was personally. Her mother
wasn't cut out for the life she was leading. She should have stayed
in the Midwest, where the people didn't scare her. Her father's
business friends made her mother so nervous that she sometimes
drank too much.

"What if she knew?" Eddie said and laughed. "About this. Her little
girl giving up her virginity to a cad." He rolled over and started
kissing her neck, her breasts. "What if she knew I was doing this?"
His hand slid down between her legs. "So answer me. What if they
knew? Your parents."

"Well, they won't."

"But just say, just suppose you were going to give me
something in return for my keeping our little secret. What would it

"That's not funny."

He sighed and rolled onto his back. "It's a game, for
chrissake. Pick me out a present."

"Well, you don't have to shout," she said. Eddie sighed deeply.
"Okay," she said. "There's a silver cigarette box lined in ivory,
about yea big." She made the small shape with her hands. "There are
always cigarettes in it left over from parties." It was her
favorite thing. She loved the way it smelled of tobacco and the
smooth, cool bone lining.

"You can do better than that. Something big," he said. "Something

She was a little hurt because she treasured that box. The only
expensive items they owned, or at least the only ones she could
think of, were the ancestor prints in the hall, but they were

"Oh, forget it. Turn over," he said. She lay with her back to him
so he could curl himself around her. "I like you," he said, running
his hand back and forth along her thigh, then pushing up the
T-shirt to help her remove it. "I like big women. That Naomi is
skin and bone. A real Bony Maroni."

"She's going to be beautiful. Everybody says."

"Not if she doesn't put some meat on her."

Carole took a deep breath and relaxed. She'd never once expected
him to like her better. It just never happened. "Naomi's mother
went insane," she said and then stopped short. Maybe she shouldn't
be telling him this.

"Oh, yeah?" Eddie said. She could hear the interest rise in his

She nodded. Now she hoped he'd just let it go. She shouldn't have
said anything.

"Insane how?" He tickled her side. "Come on, Carole. How?"

Well, when she thought about it now, she remembered how on her
first day at Spence, Amanda Howe had pointed out Naomi and said,
"That's the girl whose mother slit open her wrists with a fork and
bled to death in a mental hospital." Her words exactly, so okay,
maybe it wasn't really privileged information. It wasn't as though
Naomi had ever sworn her to secrecy. Everybody knew.

"She died in an institution. She killed herself. Her stepmother,
Elayne, she's Czech, she does Hazel Bishop commercials on What's
My Line?"
She paused to let him speak, but he didn't. "You
know, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, John Charles
Daly. When they have a break, this red light goes on over on the
left side of the set, which means she's on. Then her hands get all
lit up. She's only twenty-four. She holds up a bottle of nail
polish so you can see the lipstick and nails together."

Eddie ignored the story. "I bet that Naomi ends up in an
institution too. Like mother, like daughter, don't you think?" It
shocked her again, the way he was talking, but she liked it even
though she shouldn't. "That one has a screw loose, no question
about it." Eddie turned over, and in a few moments he began to
snore again.

She'd been so afraid that she wouldn't know what to say and there
she was saying too much. And it had all been so different from what
she'd expected. Nothing like that idiotic book of her mother's,
which mostly told how to use your elbows to keep a boy from
touching your breasts. Oh, cripes. She had been afraid of Eddie
seeing her naked, but he'd liked the way she looked. She'd been
afraid he'd like Naomi better, and here he thought Naomi was skinny
and crazy. She'd been afraid of everything, and now here she was,
perfectly relaxed and not a virgin anymore. She pulled the covers
to her chin and smiled. It must have been midnight, and he
obviously expected her to stay overnight. She had never dared to
think that might happen. Never in a million years.


She woke later because of a meowing sound at the door. It took a
minute to remember where she was. The sound was human, though,
somebody pretending to be a cat. Eddie sat up like a shot. "I'll
get it," he said.

"They'll go away." Carole grabbed for his arm. "They'll go away if
no one answers the door." She was afraid it was Naomi ruining her

"Let go." Eddie pulled away, wrapped the bedspread around his
waist, and went to the window. He opened the curtain and strained
to see out. Then he let the curtain fall. "Oh, for crying out
loud," he said.

"Who is it?"

He turned the doorknob. Carole sat up, drawing the covers over

Eddie opened the door slightly and pressed against the opening,
whispering to whoever was out there. Carole strained to see, but
Eddie was in the way. Then he said something she couldn't make out.
She got up and stood behind him, her hand on his bare back.
Startled, he turned from the door to face her. The woman outside
used the opportunity to push herself past him and into the room.
She shuddered, hugging herself and stomping her feet against the

She had on a fur hat, pointed on top and tied under the chin, a
navy-blue parka that came almost down to her knees, and big men's
boots. She was carrying a large plastic pocketbook. Carole thought
it was the motel owner's wife, here to kick her out. She'd heard
you had to register as man and wife, and even then they made you
prove it. You had to show them something with your married name on
it. The owner must have figured out that Eddie had sneaked Carole
in and wasn't going to have "it" going on in his establishment. She
braced for the woman's anger, for a scolding. But instead the woman
came in, took off her hat, and smiled. She had long reddish-brown
hair, skin as pink as bubble gum from the cold, and a broad, plump
face. She was a lot older than Carole.

"Let me take that," Eddie said to her, reaching for her

"What's going on?" Carole said.

The woman turned her back to Eddie while he removed the parka. She
shot Carole a look. Under the parka she had on a loose red sweater.
She kicked off the boots and pulled off the sweater. Her
olive-green dress had straps as thin as shoelaces that dug into her
fleshy shoulders. She sat in the wooden chair beside the dresser,
crossed her sausage legs, pulled a cigarette out, and held it up.
"You got a light?" Her voice was higher than Carole would have
expected, like a little girl's. He flicked the match with the
thumbnail of one hand and dragged it across the tip of her

"Eddie?" Carole said. If it wasn't the owner's wife, who was it?
And who did she think she was, anyway? Sitting there like she owned
the place. Carole went to the bed, the one they'd been in, and sat
down. She'd been here first.

"It's okay," he said.

The woman smoked in a heavy, leisurely way, inhaling deeply and
blowing out smoke from the corner of her mouth in a jet. She let
the ash grow until it was almost as long as the cigarette. She held
the pack of Kents out to Carole. "Want one?"

"I don't smoke."

Carole had the feeling that if she moved too quickly, something bad
would happen. She watched the woman's hand raise the cigarette to
her lips and only then realized that both of them, Eddie and that
woman, were staring at her. She felt stricken, the way she felt
when she had to stand up in front of the class and recite. "Eddie?"
She wanted somebody to say something, to break the tension in the

The woman sighed, shrugged her shoulders, took another long, deep
drag of her cigarette, and handed it to Eddie, who dropped it into
a glass, the move all smooth and choreographed like they'd done
this a million times. Eddie smiled, a disturbing kid's smile, and
let the bedspread fall to the floor. "You dropped -- " Carole began
but stopped because the woman uncrossed her legs and let herself
down to the floor, to her knees, right there in front of Eddie. She
pulled her hair back with both hands, twisted it behind her neck,
and then did something unbelievable. She took Eddie's thing in her
mouth, and Eddie just let her do it. Instead of pulling away,
instead of getting angry or upset, he stayed right where he was,
looking down at the woman like he was in a trance. The whole thing
made Carole want to gag. Wouldn't the woman get a disease? She
should leave, get out of here. She looked for her clothing and saw
Naomi's yellow sweater on the floor by the door. There was no way
she could go over there so close to the two of them. And if Eddie
wanted her to stay and she went, she'd never go to those parties in
New York. She'd never see him again. He motioned for her to come
over to where they were.

"Maybe I should go home," she said. What she really wanted was for
the woman to go, and she wanted one of them to say that, but the
woman laughed and pulled away from Eddie and got to her feet.

"Don't be silly." The woman looked at herself in the mirror,
turning this way and that. "I'm Rita. Eddie isn't too good on the
introductions." The easy familiarity with which she said Eddie's
name made Carole's stomach heave.

Rita hesitated, then gave Eddie an uncertain smile. She came over
to where Carole was sitting and sat down. "We met a couple of
times. Get her a cigarette, will you, sweetheart?" Rita said to
Eddie. "You should really smoke a cigarette, honey. It'll calm you
right down." Rita's eyes were light brown, and for the first time,
they seemed kind.

Carole shook her head. "No," she said. The truth was she'd made a
deal with her parents not to smoke until she was twenty-one. They'd
promised to give her a hundred dollars. Almost all the girls in her
class smoked.

Eddie was looking from one of them to the other. "Nice," he said,
grinning. "Say, Carole, why don't you help Rita with that

They were both watching her now. Eddie, erect, still standing where
he was. Rita beside her, her face close and smiling. "What's your
name again, honey?" Her voice was lower now, more like a regular

She shook her head. Her name was none of Rita's business.

"Carole," Eddie said.

"Aw," Rita said. "You and Jumbo here were having a nice time,

Carole just stared at her.

"And in comes little old me," Rita said with a laugh.

"Right," Carole said.

Rita patted her hand. "I won't bite."

"Pull down the zipper," Eddie said, his voice stronger, almost
demanding. He came over and sat beside her on the bed so that now
she was flanked. "Come on." He kissed her neck. "You wanted an

Carole could have died. It wasn't like that. She stole a sidelong
glance at Rita, who smiled back. "This might not work," Rita said
to Eddie.

"Sure it will. Hand me that bottle there."

Eddie held the bottle of scotch up for Carole to sip. "A little
lubrication is what you need," he breathed into her ear, nuzzling
her hair back. "Trust me." She took the bottle and tilted her head
back. The liquor came in a rush, filling her mouth. It seemed to
explode inside her.

Rita burst out laughing. "Wow," she said.

"I told you," Eddie said.

Carole had to catch her breath. The liquor burned at her center and
made her eyes water.

"She's good," Eddie said. So much was going on all of a sudden. The
low light, the fetid but almost pleasant smell of the place, the
sudden warmth she felt oozing out from the center of herself. She
had to blink to see if it was real. "She's good," he said again.
Good. It meant everything just then, like getting an A.

"Say, how old are you anyhow?" Rita's face was still pink, her
brows bunched up.

"She's eighteen," Eddie said.

"She doesn't look any eighteen to me," Rita said.

"Well, she is," he said. "Right?"

Carole nodded. The scotch was making her feel soft and damp in her

"Let's get the show on the road." Eddie rocked from foot to foot.
Rita turned and held up her hair so that Carole could take the
little black zipper tab and pull it down.

"I don't know," Carole said. It was happening too fast. Everything
was so confusing.

"Go on," Eddie said. "Just do it."

Carole pulled on the zipper and the dress opened, exposing more of
Rita's fleshy back. Good. It was covered with ugly pimples.

Rita stood and wriggled out of the dress, leaving a dark green
doughnut on the floor. She had on a red garter belt and black
stockings. Nothing else. Rita winked at Carole, as though standing
there nearly naked was cute or something. Carole had to look away
because she felt embarrassed for Rita, whose breasts were long and
walleyed, looking off in both directions. She was shaped like
Sydney Saltonstall, a girl in her class who Carole had seen naked
one time after gym and who had rolls of fat around her middle and
no waist at all. Carole might be fat, but at least her body had a

"Let's move these two beds together," Eddie said. "Up up up!"

They pulled away the little nightstand and shoved the beds
together. "Rita's going to give you a back rub."

"It's okay," Rita said. "Lie down. Do like he said. A little back
rub won't kill you." The sudden feeling of Rita's cold hand on her
shoulder made her jump. "Hey, relax. I'm good at this." Rita's
thumbs dug deep. They traveled up the back of her neck, massaging
hard, and then into her hair. Rita purred things to her: "You're
all tense....That's better....Don't worry, honey. Nobody's going to
hurt you. Honest." Eddie draped a purple towel over the cowboy
lamp, and the room went all weird blue. His weight settled on the
bed, then his hands on her, or so she thought. She tried to picture
the hands, but there seemed to be so many. She felt herself losing
her bearings. Through the fog of sensation, she knew this much:
What was happening was freeing her. Rita purred out the wrong name.
"Garrett," she said. Or something like that. Wrong guy, Carole was
thinking dreamily. Eddie didn't say anything back. He liked her,
Carole, and not Rita, she thought with faint satisfaction. He
wanted to see her in New York. He said she was good. A diamond
in the rough.

They surrounded her, wedging and shifting, their arms and legs
entangled, their skin growing moist and sticky. The sensation of
hands and lips on her body was strange but not frightening at all,
not now, and she felt carried along, lulled and excited, until
everything was happening by itself, until she was moving with them,
on her knees over them and then down, lying on her back, everything
luscious and thrilling. The beds slipped apart, and they crowded
onto the one close to the wall. Rita moaned, purred, whispered to
Carole what to do. She should touch Eddie here and then there. And
she was right because Eddie was like somebody new, kissing and
touching her, Carole, and not Rita. She was the one he liked, she
thought dreamily. Better than he liked Naomi. Better than Rita.
Maybe Rita had set everything in motion, but now all of Eddie's
attention was on her, on Carole. All of it.

There came a sobering draft. Somebody had got up. She opened her
eyes and tried to make out who in the dim light. Eddie stood beside
the bed, the bottle of scotch in his hand. He took a sip, then
passed the bottle to Rita, who passed it to Carole. She took a long
swallow and handed it back, but Eddie said to take another, and she
did. It was easy this time, the liquid rushing through in a
pleasurable way. She could see now why her mother liked to

He shoved one of the beds aside. "Move over," he said to Carole,
his voice gruff. He climbed back onto the bed and straddled Rita.
He had something in his hands. Ropes or cords. "Watch this," he

He took one of Rita's hands, wound the rope around her wrist, and
tied the other end to the bedpost. Then he did the same with her
other hand. Maybe he was tying Rita up to get her out of the way.
The thought made Carole giggle, the sound erupting in the silence
of the room.

Eddie didn't even notice her laugh. He was different all of a
sudden, serious, focused on what he was doing. Rita lay writhing,
animal sounds coming out of her, egging him on -- "Big boy, big
daddy, come to Mama." Eddie's hand explored under Rita's chin the
way Carole's speech teacher, Miss White, had instructed them so
they could feel how the words vibrated in there. Eddie and Rita
were taking up all the room on the bed, forcing Carole over to the
side and off until she was kneeling beside the bed. The scotch made
her feel outside herself, not knowing where she was, even though
she knew she could remember if she would only try. And she did try
now, slumped beside the bed, to shake off the unpleasant clumsy
feeling gathering in her head. This was the motel they'd gotten.
Snowtown. Stupid name. But that's where she was. With Eddie, who
had only just tonight taken her virginity. Changed her

She looked at Rita's upturned face, bland as cheese. Cheap, Carole
thought. She wasn't even supposed to be here. Carole had even paid
for half this room. He was hers, not Rita's. Carole rose, suddenly
feeling bold, a little angry. She didn't care what anybody thought.
She leaned in and tried to kiss Eddie, angling her face around,
insinuating herself between him and Rita. But Eddie fell back on
his haunches, and his hand slammed against the wall to keep from
falling. "Jesus," he said.

"Eddie?" She'd only meant to keep it going like before. "Move over,

"You're too fucking big," he said. "Too much weight." He pushed at
her shoulder. "Shit, you're big as a horse. Make yourself

Horse. The words hung in the stinking air, draining the life
out of her. Horse. She felt so heavy with shame, as though
she'd been struck in the stomach. She reached for the bottle of
scotch and took a sip, then another, and it helped. Maybe she'd
breathe again after all, maybe she'd live through this. And then
another sip, longer this time, grateful for the way it dulled the

"Hey," Rita said to her, lolling around, sort of out of it. She
indicated with her chin the space at the head of the bed, between
her head and the headboard in the tangles of rope. "Up here, honey.
Just get the hell out of his way. He goes a little crazy
sometimes." It was the only place Carole could be now, other than
the chair, off by herself out in the cold, and she wasn't about to
do that. No way.

She crawled over Rita's arm, into the cramped space between Rita's
upturned face and the headboard. No space at all, not nearly enough
for her, bracing herself, knees spread apart for balance. One hand
on the wall, the other shielding her crotch from Rita's gaze. If
she tried to leave, it was going to piss Eddie off again. The bed
began to rock with his movements, and she was stranded. It was like
being in the lavatory of a moving train -- the way you can never
get your balance, your legs useless and your body lurching all over
the place. And the sounds of Eddie and Rita. Sickening sounds. The
croon of their breathing below her and the steady pound of the
headboard against the wall. She just wanted it to be over. She
wanted to leave.

She shut her eyes, but the room spun and she felt nauseated. Eddie
was breathing harder, grunting out every breath like an animal, and
there were other sounds too, more tortured, the gravelly suck of
air, which could be him or Rita. And then finally, finally, Rita
relaxed, and Carole was so relieved she could have cheered. So
there, she thought, Rita doesn't want to play anymore, and neither
do I. But Eddie hammered on, and she was still on that train being
thrown forward and then back, one side and then the other, bracing
with whatever she could, her hands, her thighs, out of control
until everything came screeching to a stop, with Eddie slumped
beneath her, as motionless as if he'd been shot.

She didn't dare move until he raised himself and looked at her, his
face inches away and grotesque in the dark purple light. "God, what
a jolt," he said. "I bet you never saw anything like that

She waited for him to roll away before she crawled like an animal
back over Rita's body, aware of her own immense size, her
ungainliness and the awful picture she must make. She didn't know
what she should say or do. She stood beside the bed. Eddie reached
out, brushed her leg lightly, and grinned up at her. "First time
for everything."

The room was very still, too quiet.

Something was the matter.

"Loosen up, will you?" he said. "Try to have some fun for

Rita's eyes were half open. "What's the matter with her?" Carole

"Nothing," he said. He whipped the towel off the lamp, throwing the
room again into a stark cold light. "Believe me, she's better than
she's ever been."

"Hey," Carole said quietly to Rita, but Rita still didn't move. She
didn't even blink. "There's something the matter."

Eddie patted Rita's bare thigh. "Okay, sweetheart," he said. "Fun's

Rita still didn't move. Eddie stood, waiting, then scowled and
knelt on the bed, leaning into Rita. He shoved her hard at the
shoulder. "Hey, Rita. Hey, puss. Wake up."

He waited several beats, then placed his ear to her breast. He
touched her neck with the tips of his fingers, just under the jaw.
In that awful light, Rita looked bluish. He untied the cords and
tried to raise her to a sitting position, but she was limp like a
big doll, and he let her go like she was something dirty. Rita
flopped to one side, her hand dangling close to the floor. They
remained that way in silence, Eddie on his knees, Carole standing
beside the bed.

"Oh, shit," Eddie said.

"What?" Carole wanted him to say something else, anything other
than what she knew.

"She's dead."

Carole suddenly felt so sick to her stomach that she knew she was
about to throw up. She bolted for the bathroom, barely making it to
the toilet, where she dropped to her knees, thrust her arms around
the toilet bowl, and vomited scotch and bile. When it was over, she
stayed sitting on the floor, exhausted, hoping that when she went
back out to the room, it wouldn't be true. She hadn't heard him
right. Rita would be alive. Carole stood and looked at herself in
the mirror. Her skin was gray, with dark circles under her eyes.
She splashed water over her face and dried it with a towel. Then
she went back into the room. Eddie was sitting on the bed. He
looked up at her. "What the fuck did you do?" he said.

She felt she could throw up again. Her head was throbbing. "I
didn't do anything. I only -- "

"Only what?" He rubbed his face hard in his hands. "Only what? You
only what?" Eddie leaned over Rita to look at her again. He touched
Rita's neck. He nudged her head, ran his fingers along her neck.
"You were all over her. Her neck's busted. You must have busted her

"No." That wasn't possible. "No," she said again.

"Well, it wasn't me."

"There's a phone in the office," she said. "We can call

He took in a deep breath and shut his eyes for a long moment.
"Call somebody?" He stayed that way with his eyes closed as
though pained by her stupidity. "I don't think you understand." His
voice was thick with contempt. "You stupid cow. You killed

"I don't see how -- "

"You don't know your own strength, Fatcakes. I thought that the
first time I saw you. She's a big girl, I said to myself." He
looked her up and down. "A huge girl. A dangerous girl."

"But you said -- " Beautiful. She was aware of her nakedness
all of a sudden. Of her large body, the rolls of flesh across her
stomach, the expanse of bare thighs. She crossed her hands over her
breasts, then her abdomen.

"I told you to get off the goddamned bed, remember? But oh, no. You
go crawling all over her. What's the matter with you?"

"She told me to," Carole said, looking down at her hands and then
away, anywhere else.

"Don't bullshit me." He gathered a bedspread from the floor and
threw it to her. "Cover her up." He went into the bathroom but came
out again. "And don't fucking touch her. You got that?"

Not that she even could. Not that she could even look at Rita. She
opened the bedspread and held it out, staring at her hands again,
hands that seemed like they belonged to somebody else. And the room
too looked like a place she'd never seen before, static and out of
scale, like a room in a dollhouse. She threw the bedspread, which
fluttered and landed in a tangle across the body.

When Eddie came back, he was calmer. He pulled a window curtain
aside, holding his hand to his eyes, and looked out. Then he shut
the curtain and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning forward, his
elbows on his knees. "Here's what we do." She felt better hearing
this, back on steady ground. They would do something. "Well, let me
back up here. Before I get to that." He took in a breath, held it
and then let it all out. "This is a big problem," he said. "A very
big problem you have. Nobody can find out about this."

"But they will," she said. "When -- "

"For somebody smart, you're not catching on. Maybe I'd better spell
it out. Nobody is ever going to find out. Just you, just me. So
here's what we do. We take her up there." Eddie indicated the
window, the back of the motel.

"It's illegal."

She was afraid he'd hit her, the way his fists clenched. "What's
illegal was you breaking her fucking neck." He pulled away the
bedspread, raised Rita's head, and let it fall. Carole had to look
away, or she'd throw up again at the sight of Rita's face, her eyes
still partly open. "If you call the police, we have to tell them
what you did."

"But I didn't mean to do anything." She was frantic, trying to
think, trying to remember doing what Eddie said she did, but it was
as hopeless as remembering a dream. There, and then gone. All she
could remember was the feel of it, the way she'd been thrown around
in the dark. She had a memory of her hands on either side of Rita's
head, and her thighs too, and hating the way Rita's hair stuck to
her thighs and the hot fat feel of Rita's shoulder under the heel
of her hand. All that she remembered. Maybe. Maybe

He came over, so close she could smell him. Like metal or blood.
"You were all over her." He spoke softly, nicely even. "You busted
her neck." She was about to speak, but Eddie put a finger to his
lips. "Don't," he said. "You were drunk. Shit, you're drunk now.
Look at you."

"I never drank before."

"You were on her like a fucking gorilla," he said, still in the
same soft voice.

There was a sound outside. Footsteps, right at the door.
"Somebody's out there," she said.

Eddie switched off the light and they waited.

"I saw that." The voice was Naomi's. "Open up, you guys." She was
right there, right on the other side of the door. She pushed it
open. There was a rush of cold. "Pewey. It stinks in here."

Suddenly Naomi was standing before them in a raccoon coat, her
mouth wide open, looking around. "You guys?" Her eyes traveled from
one of them to the other. She burst out laughing and turned away.
"Cover up, will you?" Carole snatched up a sheet and wrapped it
around herself.

Eddie got up and put a hand on her shoulder, guiding her back
toward the door. "Go on back," he said. "Get out of here."

"Wait." She was looking at the bed, at Rita. She took a step toward
the bed. The bedspread had only partly covered Rita. Her hand
dangled beneath it, her hair spilled down. A calf was exposed.
"Who's that?"

"Shit," Eddie said and shut the door.

"Carole?" Naomi was still staring at Rita.

"You'd better tell her," Eddie said.

Carole shook her head.

"Tell her the truth."

"What truth?" Naomi said. "Somebody?" She looked from Carole to
Eddie and back to Rita. "She looks -- "

"Your friend's quite the pistol," Eddie said.

Naomi took a few steps toward the bed and stopped, staring for
several seconds at Rita. "Everybody just shut up," Eddie said, even
though nobody had said a word.

Naomi turned to Carole with a look of confusion, her mouth shaping
the word what. Carole looked away.

"We have a problem," Eddie said.

"Not me," Naomi said. "Don't look at me."

"All of us," Eddie said. "But your friend in particular."

Naomi sat on the floor, her dark hair covering her face. "What did
she do?"

"Let me lay it out for you," Eddie said to her. He put on a pair of
underwear and a T-shirt, then he drew a chair over and sat facing
Naomi, as though Carole wasn't even there. "Things got out of hand.
Your friend here got carried away."

Naomi turned to look at Carole, her mouth wide in amazement, then
back at Eddie.

"She got rough."

"I didn't mean -- " Carole started.

"I don't have a lot of time for this." Eddie gestured toward
Carole. "Fatcakes here leans on my friend while we're going at it.
She's got the bitch's head in a knee lock." He demonstrated,
spreading his bent knees, fists balled between them, like Rita's
head. "And she lets fucking loose," he said, twisting his knees,
fists flying out from the force. "And crack. End of story. I'm
trying to help her. All I'm trying to do is get her out of

"Is she the...?" Naomi indicated Rita with her thumb.

"The what?" Carole asked.

"Nobody," Eddie said. "She's nobody. You're here. Okay? You've
seen. That makes three of us. Okay, okay." He flicked his hands as
if they were wet. "Here's what we do." He opened the curtain again.
It was still dark outside. "Who's got the time? Doesn't anybody
wear a fucking watch?" He was getting so agitated. Fierce. He
looked again.

"It's about four," Naomi said. "I waited up. That's why I came over

"Then we do this fast. Do it now. We take her up there, up over the
field and the woods back there. We bury her in the snow. Nobody
will know. Not ever. It's a fucking wilderness out there."

"We can't. The police. It's too fast," Carole said.

Eddie exploded. "Will you please ask your friend why she doesn't
understand she fucking killed this girl, fucking broke her fucking
neck, and I'm only trying to help her here?" He kicked the wall,
slammed his hands against his temples. "Okay. You think it's too
fast. Let me tell you about fast. Fast is when they get wind of
this back at East Sixty-second Street. Fast is what happens to your
dad's job at Ivey and Mason when this gets out. And all those
boards of directors. What, Continental Pipe, the water company. Or
your mom out there hobnobbing at Sign of the Dove. I know. I do my
homework, Fatcakes. Fast is what happens when Mom and Dad find out
where you are, who you're with, what you did. That's fast. Compared
to that, this is molasses. Believe me. They'll turn on you so fast
you won't know what hit you. And which college again? Vassar?
Wellesley? It doesn't matter. You're not going anywhere when this
gets out. Your dad will be shining shoes for a living."

How did he know all this? "But I didn't mean to do anything,"
Carole blurted out.

"So it was an accident. Big deal. Try explaining that. Rich spoiled
fat girl from the city kills a little piece of ass from the sticks.
Oh, it'll play all right. You won't have a chance."

He waited for a few seconds and then said, "The room is in your
name." Her name? She couldn't take it in at first. "This. This
room. Not that it matters. How's it going to look? Big-deal
lawyer's daughter pays for a shitty motel room, pays to get herself
fucked because nobody else will step up to the plate."

It was all coming at her too fast. The details about her parents
and now the room. She couldn't keep up. Couldn't sort it all out,
but it was bad. That was for sure.

Eddie sat on the bed. "Look, you two." His face glistened with
sweat. "We're running out of time. We're going to take her out in
back right now and bury her before it gets light."

"Not me," Naomi said. "I'm not going out there. It's freezing out

"It's not a choice."

"I didn't do anything."

"She's your friend. And you," he said to Carole. "Get yourself

Carole looked over the floor and tried to understand what he meant.
Rita's dress lay at her feet, and her stockings and sweater were a
few feet away. She wondered how she would ever find what she

"Now!" Eddie bellowed, and she dropped to her knees and crawled
about the room, gathering up what was hers, afraid to touch Rita's
things. She couldn't figure out her own pants at first with those
confusing straps under the feet, or the sweater. This was going to
kill her parents. Their good girl. Their reliable daughter. She
thought about the night at Giovanni's and her heart sank. Her
parents had been a little drunk. It was the day she got her
acceptance to Vassar. "You're going to make the grade," her
father'd said. "It's just a matter of time."

Rita's purse was on the table next to the bed, and Carole watched
Naomi pick it up and look inside.

"What's that?" Eddie said.

Naomi pulled out a red and blue plastic Minnie Mouse wallet. "God,"
she said. The way she held it up by one corner made Carole want to
weep. She snatched the wallet from Naomi and thrust it into the
pocket of her parka. "Nothing," she said.

It was hard to follow his orders. They were all mixed up, full of
contradictions. He was telling her something about her shoes. Her
Capezios. The only boots were Rita's, and he made her put them on.
They were short for her, and painful. He checked the window.
"Hurry," he said.

Carole was in the middle, bearing the weight of Rita's wide hips,
which were sickeningly hard, with Eddie at the front, facing her,
walking backward, and Naomi at the feet. When he opened the door,
there was a rush of cold air. Instinctively she gathered the spread
over Rita to keep her covered from the cold. The body was heavy and
warm. She had to pause and hoist again and again.

At first they moved well, quickly around the outside of the cabin
to the edge of the field. But it was so cold and snowing hard, and
the snow got in everywhere, at her neck, into her boots, her
wrists, and she couldn't stop shivering. They dipped down and
crossed a brook. In the field, the spread began to fall away from
the body, bunching up at the hips so that Rita's breasts and face
were exposed. Eddie and Naomi didn't seem to care. They wouldn't
stop. They kept pushing forward through the snow. Carole had to
adjust the cover the best she could, with one hand, or even with
her teeth. They moved in starts, lost their balance. "Forget that,"
Eddie said when the bedspread fell away for the umpteenth

It was impossible to see where they were going in the thick snow,
and Rita's body was slippery, harder and harder to hold onto. The
spread was soaked through from dragging along the ground. Carole
kept pulling it up and throwing it around Rita over and over.

"He said forget it." Naomi was hoarse from exhaustion. "Just let it

The field was uneven under the snow, with ditches and boulders,
strands of barbed wire that wrapped around their legs. Twice they
put the body down to untangle themselves. Carole could hardly move
her hands. When they got to the woods, the going was even slower, a
few steps at a time, ducking branches and stepping through thick
brush, but at least the wind wasn't so fierce.

"Here." Eddie stopped and dropped his end. "We've got to dig a

She fell to her knees and tried to wrap the bedspread around Rita,
to cover her face and feet and tuck it in along the sides, but the
ends kept coming loose.

"Help us!" Naomi screamed at her. They were scooping out snow with
their hands. Eddie yanked her by the arm and pulled her down. "Dig,
for Christ's sake." She scooped up the snow, her hands numb. Eddie
got into the pit they were digging and worked in a kind of frenzy,
like a dog. There was the sound of ice collapsing under him, and he
sank slightly before her eyes. "Bingo." He stamped, breaking
through underfoot. "This is good." He reached from the pit and
started to pull the body toward him by the arm.

Carole tried to pull back on the body. "Don't just let her fall.
Somebody get her feet."

But they shoved the body sideways toward the pit, and Eddie
scrambled out of the way as the body fell heavily in. They stood
quietly, all of them looking down. The pit, the snow, the color of
Rita's skin were all the same gray except for the darkness of her
eyes and lips, and the patch of her pubic hair. After some moments,
Carole opened the spread to cover Rita.

Eddie snatched it away. "Are you crazy?"

"We need to cover her," Carole said. It was the least they could

"And have the cops trace it to the motel? And then to you?"

They pushed the snow back over Rita and smoothed it out. Eddie
stamped on the filled grave, his boots making a soft, hollow sound.
Carole fell to her knees, struck down by what they'd just done.
Rita had been alive an hour ago, and now she was only a few feet
beneath this perfectly smooth snow. It was impossible. It was a
terrible dream, a horrendous dream. She blinked to wake herself,
but it was real.

"Let's get out of here," Eddie said.

Carole smoothed the snow where Eddie's boots had left deep marks.
"Rest in peace" was all she could think of to say. It was pitiful.
It was not nearly enough. Nothing she did would ever be nearly

When she stood, Eddie and Naomi were gone. It was lighter out, but
still snowing and hard to see. She made her way back down through
the brush and when she reached the edge of the field saw that the
footsteps they made coming up here had already blown over. Only
Naomi's and Eddie's new ones leading back down toward the cabin
were visible. Soon the field would be swept clean.

She stopped to watch their two gray shadows ahead. She wished Naomi
had waited. She needed her right now. She started walking again,
but the sound of a car passing on a road nearby stopped her cold.
What if it was someone looking for Rita? She held her breath and
listened. The sound moved away and disappeared. But what if
somebody else came? What if somebody was planning to pick her up
and they went to the room? She had one terrifying thought after the
other. Maybe lots of people knew where Rita had gone tonight and
were coming to look for her at this very moment.

She sped up to keep from thinking and was relieved when she reached
the ring of cabins, which sat quiet, motionless. She had to narrow
her eyes against the murk and the falling snow to see, but she
could just make out Eddie and Naomi. They were together in front of
the cabin, drawing close to each other. Perhaps it was only one of
them saying something to the other in a whisper. Or the fact that
to be heard, Eddie would have had to lean down. But it looked like
a kiss, and it lasted like a kiss. Longer even. She felt the last
bit of life drain out of her. As she got closer, she got up her
nerve to brush past them into the cabin. She found her Capezios and
kicked off Rita's boots. Outside again, she passed Naomi and Eddie
without a word, but he grabbed her by the sleeve.

"Hey," he said. "Wait a minute." He pulled her close. "You know, I
know, Naomi knows. It would have been better if it were only you
and me. Safer for you. But Naomi's your friend and she isn't going
to say anything. We already talked about that. So there's only one
way for you to have a problem and that's if one of us opens our
mouth and it won't be me, got it?"

Carole nodded and turned to leave, but Eddie didn't open his grip.
"You've got everything to lose here, Carole. Remember that. We're
on your side. We're going to keep this quiet for your sake. Next
couple of days we'll know if we're okay."

She pulled away and headed back toward the mountain road. It was
light enough to see through the falling snow, to the towering jade
evergreens, the road ahead of her. A few minutes later she heard
the sound of someone running behind her.

"Wait up."

She stopped. When Naomi caught up, Carole turned to her. "Why did
you put it in my name?"


"The room, Nay. You're the one who made the reservations. You and
Eddie. Why didn't you use your own name?"

"Somebody might recognize it. Elayne's famous, in case you didn't

"She's not famous."

"More famous than you," Naomi said.

Carole turned in a fury of tears and walked fast to get away from
her. And then she remembered. She looked back. "What were you doing
kissing him?" Her voice rang in the cold air.

"Shush," Naomi hissed at her. "You want to wake up the whole

Carole turned away and broke into a run along the snow-covered
drive, her lungs burning with a sharp smart pain, her feet stinging
with cold. Where it turned to pavement she ran faster, harder, her
feet crunching the pebbles of salt. She ran until a car rushed past
going the other way, and stopped short. What if people saw? The car
sped away, not even slowing. She breathed in relief. Maybe they
hadn't noticed. Maybe they didn't care. A girl on the road before
dawn like this. Maybe it happened all the time. Oh, please, God, if

Excerpted from SPEAK SOFTLY, SHE CAN HEAR © Copyright 2005
by Pam Lewis. Reprinted with permission by Simon & Schuster,
Inc. All rights reserved.

Speak Softly, She Can Hear
by by Pam Lewis

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743255399
  • ISBN-13: 9780743255394